South Africa: A Situation Through My Eyes

Recently, I was aboard a Boeing 737, on a flight headed towards Cape Town, in South Africa. It was a domestic flight, as I do live in the country. However, during this flight something remarkable happened – a process that I would collectivley dub in it’s entirety as “the moment my eyes were open to the world.”

As we began our descent, and as the structures, people and vehicles below became clearer and clearer, I looked outside the window, having the luxury of a window seat. I could make out farms, mountainscapes, and all in all, absolute beauty. You could call me slow and non-observant, but for possibly the first time in my life I appreciated the world. 

As we got nearer and nearer to the runway, my fascination and wonder could only grow accordingly. However, just before we touched the ground, I saw something that startled me. Right outside the fence that would cut the airport off from the outside world and therefore making the runway protected, I eyed informal settlements. Now, I ask you, the reader, if you were a tourist arriving in the country, and on your way to land you eyed shacks and heart-rending poverty, what would you think? Surley this site would only compliment the common, incorrect association with South Africans and the belief that they do, in fact, have wild animals in their back garden, and we’re all a plain bunch of farmers who have a history of racism and a system called ‘Apartheid’ that one day gained the world’s attention. 

However, this is truly not the case. Although South African does suffer from poverty, informal settlements and a high rate of crime, I rate that people, when they think about South Africa, don’t even know what the country is truly like. Allow me to give you a brief run through of the positive aspects of our country: We have beautiful landscapes, beaches, you name it. For the most part, we’re damn well friendly people. We often go out of our way to help one another. We have beautiful settled areas, generally have great weather (depending on location in the country) and we just get on with our own business. Speaking of business, it generally thrives here. 

However, on the negative side, our soon-to-be president, Jacob Zuma, whom I shall remain impartial to for the sake of this article, has been accused of rape, been involved in an arms deal, (although the charges for both were later dropped) stated that he has ‘taken a shower to reduce the chance of being infected with HIV/AIDS’  and has sung a rather dubious song about violence and suggestive killing that only has two lines repeated over and over, while on campaign. We have our President of the ANC (Our ruling political party) Youth League, a young man (whom I shall also remain impartial to) who has stated that we should kill for this president elect. This ruling party has always been the topic of conversation over it’s policies, a good example being that they wish to rename many of the roads of the country against the will of the majority of the people. 

Strikes and rallies are common here, and crime is a day to day occurance. All in all, I can see why people would tend to stay away from our country due to what is seen and heard on the media. But, just for know, consider us as Susan Boyle – the amazing Britian’s Got Talent contestant who is now a YouTube sensation – Before she sang to her audience, virtually all of them shook their heads, thinking that the 47 year old could probably not sing a note. However, during her performance, she earned several standing ovations from nearly the entire audience is now a household name. Consider us as something not seen at face value – an amazing country, a true rainbow nation, as so adequately described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

So, journeying back to my flight, I wondered: Why have these settlements shown to prospective tourists, and have them right outside an airport? (To prevent dispute, I do not agree in any way with the option of demolishing these settlements or forcefully relocating their residents) But the real question that ached on inside of me was ‘Are we really in such bad shape?’

Furthermore, it seems our government, upon landing, has chosen to renovate this airport, bringing it into a modern and advanced design. But was this a good way to improve the area? Should the poverty stricken informal settlements less than a kilometer away not have received first priority? I do hope that Helen Zille, the new Mayor of Cape Town and Premier of the Western Cape would address this, although judging by what she has done in the past, I am confident in her ability.

Our country has, over the past 8 years, been under the subject of controversial government from our past president, Thabo Mbeki, who, rather that be criticized for wrongdoings like most political leaders today, is constantly criticized for his apathy on many situations, the Zimbabwe crisis being a good example. 

In these times, I often look upon United States President Barack Obama as a source of inspiration: A good man who sees that our world, more specifically his state of America, needs change in order to be a thriving nation. He dreams of a new America, albeit a changed one, and this is the same way I choose to look at South Africa – a great country, that needs change in order to endure and prosper.

Sure, Liberalism is a healthy pursuit – but to what degree should it be taken to and what should we remain conservative about? Should South Africa see the return of the Death Penalty? Should a firmer stance be taken on crime? Can corruption be stopped? And most of all – in these times, can we hold on to the one thing more dear than our credit cards, wallets and fast cars – our honesty and values? Could we hope for this in South Africa?

I recall once asking my grandfather about what is different about this day and age from his own time when he was in his youth; and rather than talk about money, technological advancement, or the breakthroughs in medicine and media, to which he replied: “People have lost their honesty.”

That, for me, is the key question about living in South Africa. Not something along the lines of “Will the price of petrol and living go down?” or “Will this economic recession end?” but something more along the lines of “Will the new South Africa, in generations to come be a country regarded for it’s refined state, it’s ability to finally end and seek creative solutions agaisnt disease, elecrticity crises, abuse of leadership, corruption, arms deals, crime, and poverty, or is it more likley that we’ll end up following in the footsteps of a country like Zimbabwe?” 

I’m fairly sure that’s the question that faces every South African and every one of our prostpective citizens, but with Jacob Zuma set to become president, can he redeem our country – and himself in the eyes of many – or shall he take us on a rollercoaster ride of ridicule from the world? All I could say is, is that’ll I’ll be following his every decision – good or bad, and I’ll just have to place my trust in the man. Either way, I’m sure South Africa will make history, as it has done so in the past.

I’ll be watching.

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Posted on May 2, 2009, in Politics, South Africa and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Bryan,

    I enjoyed your writng. You might find it interesting that a while back I hosted a couple from South Africa briefly while they were visiting here in the states. Their reactions were unforgettable. At the time I was living and working in a rural community know for rice farming. The scenery is similar to a television stuck on pause with a single horizontal line on it and the countyrside is littered with shotgun shack style housing from days gone by of sharecropping. It was not exactly the America you might see on CSI Miami. Then again, they don’t grow much rice in Florida either.

    Your grandpa seems like a pretty wise man. Seeing as how I am getting a little older I also feel justified in passing along some observations which I have found to be useful provided that they are recalled from time to time. I hope you don’t mind.

    How to speak like a lawyer / politician:

    1) Never answer a question directly
    2) Take credit for everything positive
    3) Avoid personal responsibilty at all costs
    4) Accuse opponets of being racist, homophobic, misogynistic or misanthraled and if they don’t know what the words mean then accuse them of being ignorant
    5) Say you are the most open minded person in the world, even if you are not
    6) Promise everyone everything
    7) Be the best victim you can possibly be
    8) Always interrupt your opponent
    9) Claim to speak for everyone
    10) Take several inconsistent positions on every issue so that you can never, ever, be wrong

    With optimism for the future in Southern Africa and to a lekker World Cup

    73’s

    X

  2. Very well written Bryan. Keep up the good work.

  3. Nice one, man 🙂 also check out the article I wrote for Byte Lounge on the Internet and politics (it’s on the main page).

  4. Bryan
    Very well written.
    Liz

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